2. Analyzing Wargames


We The People boardgame
"Control freaks won't like this game. If you can't stand the idea of Howe with 5 units losing to Gates with a single unit because Gates counter-attacked and Howe's enormous hand of Battle Cards doesn't happen to have a "Double Envelopment" card, then you'll find this game frustrating."

A wargamer's review of We The People posted on Web-Grognards


Analyzing Wargames

The first section of this website surveyed the landscape of contemporary wargaming by identifying the various genres of wargaming and discussing how individual wargaming genres often seem to overlap with or derive from other genres. Having established the basic contours of wargaming today, this section will discuss ways in which wargames can be analyzed. The ultimate goal of this analysis should be to improve the quality of wargames, however "quality" may be defined. 

Some words about words 
The analysis of wargames is sometimes confused by issues of terminology. For some professional wargamers (and some hobby gamers as well) the word "simulation" is often preferable to the word "game."[1]  Also, the terms "model" and "analysis" are often used
in describing wargames. Though the definitions of these terms are by no means clearly fixed, it is probably helpful to clarify terminology a bit at the outset.[2]

Analysis and operational research are used to describe the science of solving military operational problems.  Military operations research began during the turn of
the century with early pioneers like Clausewitz and Lanchester, who attempted to represent military conflict using mathematical models. OR grew into a separate field of study during and after World War II, when mathematics and statistical analysis were brought to bear on an increasing number of tactical problems.  Contemporary analysis involves a great deal of "number crunching" using computer models of military conflict. Analysis and OR, strictly speaking, do not involve wargaming, since no human decision-making is required. However, much of contemporary wargaming is dependent upon computer software or "rules" which are derived from analytical devices and models.

A model is a representation of a real object or system that represents the object or system at some level of detail beyond mere reference. Generally, models reproduce the various components and features of the thing represented. Hence, the word "war" is not a model of war, but a "toy" tank is a model of a tank.  There are various types of models--verbal models, diagrams, and three-dimensional models are all examples. 

A simulation is generally a more dynamic model. This dynamic element is created by adding a temporal dimension to a model. Whereas a model is often static, a simulation model changes over time. For instance, a tank simulation may show how a tank performs in a combat situation, how it sustains damage, or it travels across terrain. Most simulations are interactive, meaning that they allow viewers to adjust the simulation and influence its shape.

Using this terminology, wargames are interactive simulations of war based on models of the various features of war. While they can be used for analytical purposes, they do not constitute analysis in themselves.


Previous Page | Site Map | About the Site
Poster for the movie "WarGames"

1(back).  Some have suggested that the shift away from "wargames" toward "simulations" may have been prompted by the movie WarGames (1983).  WarGames starred a young Matthew Broderick as a high school hacker who breaks into a military computer and during ensuing hijinks succeeds in nearly starting a nuclear war.  

2(back).  For another take on these terms, see Paul K. Davis & Donald Blumenthal, The Base of Sand Problem: A White Paper on the State of Military Combat Modeling 1 (1991).